New Pokémon Snap review for Nintendo Switch | Nostalgic and fresh

The original Pokémon Snap was a beloved cult classic among Pokémon fans. Now more than two decades later, Bandai Namco’s  is finally continuing the legacy of the Pokémon spin-off. The expectations were understandably high, but New Pokémon Snap rises to the occasion. Beautiful graphics, an eclectic selection of Pokémon, fun online functionality, and design decisions aimed at maximizing replayability all combine to create a package that Pokémon fans won’t want to miss out on. The Lental region is waiting for you to explore it, and despite some minor stumbles along the way, it’s a journey that’s worth taking.

Simple but charming

Pokémon Snap presented players with a basic story to justify their photography expedition, but this isn’t the case for the latest outing. The narrative of New Pokémon Snap focuses on your custom character and the new duo of Professor Mirror and Rita. Taking place in the Lental region, the professor and his team are trying to uncover the mystery behind the Illumina Pokémon and their connections to a disaster that befell the area a long time ago.

In the long run, it’s a simple premise that doesn’t do much beyond offering some extra companions to encourage your photography. That said, when characters come together for the occasional cutscene, complete with voice acting, it gives off a Saturday morning cartoon vibe that feels right at home with the tone of New Pokémon Snap. The mystery behind the Illumina Pokémon has some enjoyable payoffs, and when all is said and done, the increased emphasis on story serves an appreciable role in adding context and motivation to your photography adventure.

A view to a Pokémon photo

After a short introduction, New Pokémon Snap wastes no time in getting you into the Neo-One pod. Just like the original, the game takes you on a series of linear on-rails levels with the goal of taking the most interesting Pokémon photos possible. Each island contains courses that cover various times of day and biomes such as jungles, deserts, and beaches, and it culminates in a set piece with an Illumina Pokémon.

New items that enhance the core photography mechanics are doled out at a steady pace. Scans can highlight objects of interest, while Fluffruits and Illumina Orbs can be thrown to trigger unique Pokémon behaviors, lure them to specific spots, and much more. Like the Poké Flute, the new Melody Player even lets you play music to make Pokémon dance or wake up. In an almost Metroidvania fashion, it can be truly gratifying to return to older levels and discover photo opportunities that were only possible with your new gear.

Upon completing a course, players can present their findings to Professor Mirror. Photos are evaluated based on a 1-4 star rating for rare behaviors and a numerical score based on criteria such as pose, size, direction, and placement. Your selected photos are sent to the Photodex, and any remaining photos can be saved to a personal album. It’s agonizingly fun to decide which photos to present as you work towards a complete Photodex. Do you go for a photo with a bigger star rating that was harder to time or a low-star photo with better chances of grabbing a high score?

If you already have a Photodex entry of the same star rating, you’ll get to compare the score against your new photo and decide which earns a place in the bestiary. Much like J. Jonah Jameson looking for a perfect photo of Spider-Man, it’s a hard call to make, but always an engaging decision.

Streamlined photography in New Pokémon Snap

Many will remember that the original Pokémon Snap could be somewhat cryptic when it came to unlocking new levels (throwing an apple at an Electrode, anyone?). In New Pokémon Snap, progression has been streamlined as much as possible. Each course has its own research level, which can be increased by the expedition points earned from your photographs there. By increasing the research level of a course, the story progresses, and more courses are made available. New research levels also change the behavior of Pokémon on courses in addition to adding new Pokémon, making them play out dramatically differently on return trips.

Beyond simplifying progression, New Pokémon Snap also packs in some valuable and modern quality-of-life features. Album photos can be saved directly to your Switch, autosaves maintain your momentum, and research levels can be adjusted to replay courses with specific objectives in mind. Within the Photodex, a map can display routes of finished levels, complete with icons to pinpoint the positions of every known Pokémon in that area. Bandai Namco clearly understands what makes New Pokémon Snap enjoyable and has done an admirable job in enhancing the formula.

Snapping never stops?

New Pokémon Snap isn’t a long game, but it is replayable. Short courses and a limit on photographs make it exceedingly tricky to nail a perfect run. Multiple attempts are necessary to get the maximum out of a course, but new mechanics keep this from feeling like padding. The aforementioned research levels significantly alter courses and make them satisfying to replay thanks to new Pokémon, behaviors, and paths. Obtaining every star photo and using new items on older courses, such as getting a Scorbunny to do a flame kick by throwing an Illumina Orb at it, encourage the exploration and replayability that the game is designed around.

At times, I felt fatigued by replaying courses, but just before it became legitimately annoying, I was always given a new area or research level to spice things up. Requests, New Pokémon Snap’s side quests, also helped with this. Rita may ask to see a Dodrio flying, and it’s up to you to figure out how to get that photo. Requests provide hints for what secret photo opportunities you’ve yet to discover, whilst also rewarding you with goodies like filters, stickers, and frames to use in your photo-editing endeavors.

An online suite puts these features to great use. All players have an online page to display some personality and select photos. Photodex scores can be compared on leaderboards, and custom photos from other players can be viewed and awarded medals. Seeing the medals my photos were receiving encouraged me to regularly check in and update my photo collection before comparing it to those of other players.

When the main story is done, the game introduces some bonus levels, mechanics, and modes that add even further reasons to revisit courses. I’m looking forward to combing the game for missed photo ops and filling out my Photodex. However, understandably, this emphasis on replayability over length won’t justify the price for some, and ultimately it will depend on how big of a Pokémon fan you are.

Photogenic Pocket Monsters

It isn’t the best-looking game on Nintendo Switch, but New Pokémon Snap is definitely the best-looking Pokémon game we’ve seen to date. Pokémon fans that were underwhelmed by recent entries will have much more eye candy to enjoy here, with minor caveats. Bright and colorful environments are a joy to traverse, and despite the texture quality being nothing to write home about, there are still some superb water effects and impressive structures to behold.

Wisely, the Pokémon themselves are the stars of the show. Detailed character models portray the Pokémon beautifully at any distance, and a comprehensive variety of animations does a wonderful job at bringing their adorable behaviors to life. As a result, the Lental region is filled with the ambience of a living space where Pokémon can naturally react to both you and each other.

In-game cutscenes and human characters can have a distinctly bright and plastic aesthetic. It isn’t the most detailed or impressive aspect of the presentation, but it’s clean and colorful. Elsewhere, a mostly stable 30 FPS does its best to remain unintrusive, load times are fast, and handheld mode turns the Switch into an immersive motion-controlled pseudo-camera. Returning melodies combine with subdued new music to create a calming soundtrack that never feels overbearing, and it only adds to the feeling of being on a serene Pokémon-themed safari.

New Pokémon Snap is a success

New Pokémon Snap confidently demonstrates why the wait for a sequel was long past due. At every turn, it goes beyond the scope of the original game to provide an experience that’s both nostalgic and refreshingly modern. On-rails photography journeys are enjoyable thanks to a plethora of secrets, fun items to use, and consistently interesting changes to each level. Modern quality-of-life features minimize any potential frustrations with not understanding how to best plan out your runs, while a slew of side quests, online functionality, and postgame bonuses add some meaningful replayability. Though it remains technically imperfect and may not justify its price tag for all players, it provides enough attention to detail to remind us of why we fell in love with Pokémon to begin with. New Pokémon Snap is a welcome return for the spin-off series and one that Pokémon fans shouldn’t skip.

Release Date: April 30, 2021
No. of Players: 1 player

A review code for New Pokémon Snap was provided by the publisher.